Waterford jockey and trainer combination John Gleeson and John Kiely were among the big winners at the 2023 Horse Racing Ireland Awards, which were held in Dublin on Monday night.
Top trainer Jessica Harrington and former champion jockey Davy Russell were among those honoured.
This year’s recipient of the Contribution to the Industry Award is Jessica Harrington who has long been established as one of the most gifted dual-purpose trainers in the country. Moscow Flyer, one of the greatest two-mile chasers of recent times; Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John; the champion hurdler Jezki and Irish Grand National winner Our Duke were among the best she has trained in the National Hunt sphere. On the Flat, Pathfork was the first of her 12 Group 1 winners with both Alpha Centauri and Alpine Star winning at the highest level at Royal Ascot with the former and Magical Lagoon taking the Irish 1,000 Guineas and the Irish Oaks at the Curragh respectively.
The Irish Racing Hero Award recipient is Davy Russell, undoubtedly one of the all-time great National Hunt jockeys who bowed out at the Aintree Festival in April. For a man who enjoyed such a terrific career, crowned champion jockey on three occasions, it was fitting that he retired on the day he won the Turners Mersey Novices´ Hurdle on the Gordon Elliott-trained Irish Point, his 61st Grade 1 winner. Aintree had been a happy hunting ground for the Youghal, County Cork jockey who twice won the Grand National itself on Tiger Roll, while Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere was one of his 25 successes at the Cheltenham Festival.
Owned in partnership by Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Mrs Susan Magnier and Westerberg, and trained by Aidan O'Brien, the Horse Racing Ireland Horse Of The Year is Auguste Rodin. He followed up on his Epsom Derby success when winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh and then added to a gutsy victory in Leopardstown’s Royal Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes at the Irish Champions Festival with a most memorable win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita in early November.
John Gleeson certainly confirmed the promise he showed at the beginning of his career with his efforts in the saddle throughout 2023 and he wins the Emerging Talent Award. John’s year was highlighted by the unbeaten run of A Dream To Share which scored at three high-profile meetings, the Dublin Racing Festival in February, the Cheltenham Festival the following month, and the Punchestown Festival in late April. John has been a frequent visitor to the winners’ enclosure and he notched up his first Galway festival success on 66/1 chance Minella Mate during the summer.
The winner of the National Hunt Award is Paul Townend who enjoyed a terrific year, delivering on the biggest stages time and time again, dominating at all the major festivals, and emerging as the leading rider at Cheltenham for a third time before being crowned Irish champion jockey for the sixth time with a tally of 107 winners, the fourth occasion that he’s reached three figures for a domestic season. Paul’s winning rides on Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Galopin Des Champs and on I Am Maximus in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National were hailed as among the best of the season with his Guinness Galway Hurdle effort on Zarak The Brave not far behind. It is Paul’s first HRI Award.
The National Hunt Achievement Award goes to John Kiely who has been hailed as a nurturer of both horse and jockey and feted for his handling of the bumper star A Dream To Share and his young rider John Gleeson. They enjoyed an unbeaten season that saw them win races at Tipperary and Roscommon in early summer before continuing their winning run in the even more competitive surroundings of the Dublin Racing Festival, the Cheltenham Festival, and the season-ending Punchestown Festival.
Barry O’Neill is the Point-to-Point Award winner after a thoroughly dominant season. A total of 64 winners in the pointing fields saw Barry crowned champion rider for the seventh straight year as he rode almost double the number of winners of any other rider. With the assistance of Colin Bowe and David Christie in particular, the Wexford rider could boast a 33% strike rate for the season, his highest to date across 18 seasons of race-riding, and his growing list of regional titles was further enhanced by the addition of the eastern and northern awards in 2023.
Aidan O'Brien wins the Flat Award. A multiple Group 1 winner once again, Aidan won at the highest level in Ireland with Auguste Rodin taking both the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, the trainer’s 100th European Classic win, and the Kingdom Of Bahrain Irish Champion Stakes. Paddington won the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas while also at the Curragh, Savethelastdance won the Juddmonte Irish Oaks, Luxembourg captured the Tattersalls Gold Cup with the Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes going the way of Henry Longfellow. Auguste Rodin also gave Aidan a record ninth Epsom Derby success and his 17th winner at the Breeders’ Cup in early November and the following afternoon he was crowned champion trainer for the 26th time.
There could only ever be one winner of the Flat Achievement Award and it goes to Wesley Joyce who completed a truly remarkable comeback when returning to race riding in the latter half of the 2023 Flat season after suffering serious injury at the 2022 Galway festival. He was on the sidelines for over a year and returned to the racecourse in early August, riding two winners before the month’s end and finishing the season with 11 winners from just 98 rides. Among those on hand to congratulate Wesley was Karen Keehan of the Moyross Youth Academy in Limerick.
A public vote determined the winner of the 2023 Ride of the Year and the award goes to Amy Jo Hayes for her front-running display on Redstone Well in the nine-furlong Irish Stallion Farms EBF Nasrullah Handicap at Leopardstown in July. Davy Russell and Fran Berry nominated six rides and Amy Jo’s effort topped an online poll of over 2,600 votes by the narrowest of margins.
For the second time, Ballinrobe is the winner of the Horse Racing Ireland Racecourse of the Year Award. Ballinrobe previously won the award in 2013, the first year it was presented. This year, the findings of a thorough online industry survey, to which almost 1,500 people, both racegoers and industry professionals, responded, were used to determine the nominees for this award, and having topped a number of the survey’s categories, Ballinrobe emerged as the clear winner.
Horse Racing Ireland Chairman, Nicky Hartery, commented: “Our annual awards give deserved recognition to everyone who makes the Irish racing and breeding industries the outstanding successes they are. I want to thank everyone for their efforts and dedication throughout the year and on this night, to single out all our winners with special consideration for Jessica Harrington, Davy Russell, and to young Wesley Joyce, an absolute inspiration to us all.”
The 11 winners at the 21st Horse Racing Ireland Awards:
Contribution to the Industry: Jessica Harrington
Irish Racing Hero Award: Davy Russell
Horse of the Year: Auguste Rodin
Emerging Talent: John Gleeson
National Hunt Award: Paul Townend
National Hunt Achievement: John Kiely
Point-to-Point Award: Barry O'Neill
Flat Award: Aidan O'Brien
Flat Achievement Award: Wesley Joyce
Ride of the Year winner: Amy Jo Hayes
Racecourse of the Year: Ballinrobe